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History of Statistical-Thinking Definition

Britz et al (1996) assign Deming’s Theory of Profound Knowledge as the original source of our definition of Statistical Thinking.   Profound Knowledge has 4 parts:

  1. Appreciation for a system
  2. Knowledge about variation
  3. Theory of knowledge
  4. Psychology

The first Statistical-Thinking principle “All work occurs in a system of interconnected processes” follows from Profound Knowledge part 1.   The second and third Statistical-Thinking principles, “Variation exists in all processes” and “Understanding and reducing variation are keys to success”, come from Profound Knowledge part 2.

However, Ron Snee (1986 and 1990) used the term Statistical Thinking with the same meaning (other than wording changes) prior to the Statistics Division’s adoption of the term.   Snee states on page 27 (Snee 1986): “…, statistical thinking is used to describe the thought processes that acknowledge the ubiquitous nature of variation and that its identification, characterization, quantification, control, and reduction provide a unique opportunity for improvement.   ….Every enterprise is made up of a collection of interconnected processes whose input, control variable, and output are subject to variation.   This leads to the conclusion that statistical thinking must be used routinely at all levels of the organization.”   Later, Snee defines Statistical Thinking (Snee 1900, page 118): “I define statistical thinking as thought processes, which recognize that variation is all around us and present in everything we do, all work is a series of interconnected processes, and identifying, characterizing, quantifying, controlling, and reducing variation provide opportunities for improvement.  This definition is essentially the same as the Statistics Division definition published in 1996.

My conclusion is that the basic ideas in our definition of Statistical Thinking date back to Deming.    Ron Snee in 1986 and 1990 made the first use of the term Statistical Thinking giving it the meaning we are currently using.   If anyone has further information to contribute to this topic, please make your comments known.

Compare the Statistical-Thinking history with Six Sigma.  Breyfogle (2003 on page 5) credits Bill Smith at Motorola with the initial use of the term Six Sigma.  Like Statistical Thinking, the original ideas come from quality pioneers such as Deming.    In 1998, Motorola received the Malcom Baldridge National Quality Award in part due to their Six Sigma program.    Motorola University states that Bill Smith introduced the term Six Sigma in 1986.   Thus, the initial definitions of the terms Six Sigma and Statistical Thinking occurred at about the same time.


  1. Britz, G. et al. (1996). Statistical Thinking, ASQ Statistics Division Special Publication.
  2. Snee, R. D. (1986). "In Pursuit of Total Quality." Quality Progress 20(8): 25-31.
  3. Snee, R. D. (1990). "Statistical Thinking and Its Contribution to Total Quality." The American Statistician 44(2): 116-121.
  4. Breyfogle, F. W. (2003). Implementing Six Sigma. Hoboken, New Jersey, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
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